What is Happening

The world is facing crises on multiple levels and the public needs to start paying attention:
  • Scarcity of lumber and other tree products.  Forests in North America, Europe, Brazil, and other countries are going up in smoke, and the firemen can no longer control the fires.  The unprecedented intensity of these fires destroys forests permanently.  In the past year alone, we’ve lost 10 million acres of trees.  Intensity of beetle infestations is also unprecedented.  We are evidently facing the end of the era of abundant wood.
  • Instability in the power grid.  The present power grid can no longer support consumer demand reliably, as evidenced by a month-long blackout in Texas and a year-long blackout in Puerto Rico.  The infrastructure is aged and cannot keep up with rising consumer demand.  The renewable power (solar and wind) which is replacing traditional power (coal and oil) are increasing instability in the grid since they come and go and create imbalance between power generation and power consumption.  We are evidently facing the end of the era of reliable electrical power.
  • Increased vulnerability of public infrastructure through hacking.  As governments rush to place systems on the internet, the cybercriminals crowd in to find and exploit security vulnerabilities.  It has been amply demonstrated that it is virtually impossible to create a completely secure system, and so it is reckless to connect critical systems (like municipal water supply and rail transit) to the internet, but that is precisely what we are doing.  The question is no longer when systems will be hacked, but how often.  We are evidently facing the end of the era of reliable municipal infrastructure.
  • Collapse of the global supply chain.  Ocean shipping delays are already many times what they were in the past, and the problem is getting worse.  From shortages of warehouse space to containers to dock workers to truck drivers the system is collapsing at many levels.  We are evidently facing the end of the era of fast and cheap global shipping.

Why it is Happening

Why the global wood supply is being quickly depleted:
  • The US Forest Service has been busy extinguishing small forest fires over many decades because they didn’t realize that the small fires serve the important purpose of burning up the dry brush on the ground.
  • Forests the world over have become more like monocultures as a consequence of clear cutting.  The absence of a multitude of species means that entire forests can be completely destroyed.
  • Farmers the world over have been busy depleting precious groundwater so that trees spend far more of their life cycles in a parched state where they are extremely vulnerable to fire.
  • Today's forest fires burn with such ferocity that they create their own weather systems featuring tornadoes and lightning which can ignite new blazes hundreds of miles away.
  • Recent weather patterns have been especially favorable to pine beetles which are now able to reproduce multiple times in a single season and exceeding the ability of trees to resist their onslaught.

Why the electric grid has become less stable and reliable:
  • Demand for electricity is increasing with rising household incomes, the electrification of transport and heat, and the growing demand for digital connected devices and air conditioning.
  • Energy deregulation legislation from the 1990s excessively rewards cost efficiency and discourages redundancy and backup resources and reserves and measures against weather and other threats.
  • Increasing reliance on wind and solar distant from urban areas means that power now has to travel longer distances to the point of consumption, stressing already overloaded transmission lines.
  • The grid is an increasingly complex mishmash of components spanning more than 7,000 power plants delivering energy across 160,000 miles of high-voltage lines and millions of miles of low-voltage lines.
  • There has been a 67% increase in weather-related power outages since 2000 in the United States, reflecting the inability of the aging electrical grid to withstand increasingly extreme weather events.

Why public infrastructure has become less stable and reliable:
  • Cyber security is a vast and abstruse subject and requires constant retraining as new threats arise.
  • A technological attack may be combined with a social engineering tactic similar to advertising which can sidestep the most sophisticated monitoring systems and timely security patching efforts.
  • Cash-strapped utilities don’t have the means or know-how to invest in computer security.  Compromised computer systems may be difficult to identify, giving operators a false sense of security.
  • Victims are reluctant to come forward due to risk to reputation and potential civil or criminal lawsuits, thus hampering law enforcement.
  • Cybercrime often occurs across international borders, creating jurisdictional ambiguities and hampering law enforcement.

Why the global supply chain has become less stable and reliable:
  • COVID-19-related delays are being introduced at every stage of the shipping process.  Port congestion has risen sharply, and major ports have record backlogs of vessels waiting to unload.
  • New extreme weather patterns increase the annual probability of events that are more intense than manufacturing and/or shipping facilities are built to withstand.
  • Old unresolved international disputes and new conflicts are contributing to an uncertain geopolitical climate, and such forces can quickly destabilise shipping.
  • Modern supply chains are exceptionally long and vulnerable.  Like all chains they are only as strong as their weakest link.

What We Should Do About it

Youth who will face these challenges need to learn different skills than those which were taught generations ago.  And we as a society need to be doing different things to shield ourselves from these coming problems.  One of the most pressing problems we face in the built environment is the pervasive reliance on electrical power for keeping our homes safe.  Since electrical power has been reliable in the past, we can’t imagine how to manage without it.  But imagine we must.  People are now dependent on air conditioning and refrigeration to the point where its absence is an existential threat.

There is a better way.  Tosafos teaches that people who live in stone houses are never too hot.  Since we expect wood to be scarce anyway, it’s time to start learning and teaching about natural building techniques.  Not necessarily with stone, which may be expensive, but rather with adobe (earth, water and straw) which is available everywhere, and serves the same purpose.  Earth dwellings are not temporary structures, but fine homes which may stand for hundreds of years.  The ancient Persian city of Yazd is built almost entirely out of adobe buildings.  And when built according to passive solar design principles, these homes maintain their comfort in all seasons in most climates of the world.

It must be noted that heat waves and blackouts usually travel together, since the biggest challenge for power grids is servicing air conditioners in the summer.  But when the system collapses in a blackout, it will be too late to start building houses which are naturally comfortable.  The number of experts who can do this properly is at present small and the demand at that time would far outstrip supply.  And in any case, many lives would be immediately lost in a prolonged heatwave/blackout.  Instead, we need to build the demand through training our youth to prefer earth construction, and over time the knowledge and expertise available will increase and the industry will be built up.

Because the supply chain and global shipping is in crisis, products from overseas which were once abundant will probably soon be scarce or unavailable.  This is a big blow to a society in which almost everything comes from overseas, and signals that we need a profound change in how we educate our youth.  We have to think ahead and instead of pushing our children into the various professions, start giving them artisanal skills so they know how to make useful things with their hands.

Our soon-to-come Camp Hikon will teach many of these ancient skills but it cannot possibly serve all who could benefit from its teachings.  Instead, we are committed to publishing a curriculum which can be taught in Yeshivos in place of the traditional English, Science, Math and History curricula, and which would integrate our teachings into the traditional secular education framework.  The planned curriculum would teach all the traditional subjects but with a special focus on teaching skills the boys need.  For example, a math word problem would speak not about the irrelevant point of collision of two trains about to crash, but about how a roof overhang is designed to admit the winter sun but to exclude the summer sun.  A biology lesson would focus not on tedious details of protein synthesis, but on how crops may be grown in the arid Southwest.  History is full of clever solutions by ancient peoples to adapt to their environment, but present curricula eschew these lessons in favor of teaching about the circumstances under which ancient peoples conquered each other.  For those who worry about whether students will still be able to pass the regents exam, please note that the major challenge of teaching is in getting students interested, rather than in shovelling knowledge into their brains.

As a bonus, teaching manual dexterity is a powerful tool in engaging struggling boys not in Limudei Chol alone, but in Limudei Kodesh as well.  Principals will testify that the teaching of manual dexterity to struggling Yeshiva boys quickly builds their self-esteem, and can predictably enhance their connection to Yiddishkeit.

It’s significant that the Camp and the new Curriculum will inform and enhance each other.  The camp will be able to hire expert teachers beyond the reach of Yeshivos, but Yeshivos will be able to incorporate far more material into a curriculum which spans multiple years of the K-12 system.

Helping Our Troubled Youth

Our young people have unmet needs.  They need to be saved from the toxins bombarding them from all sides in their food, water and air.  They need to be saved from wireless EMFs, which are the most insidious poison because it is impossible for the body to mount any defense against.  They need to be able to create things with their hands.  And they need better answers when they ask 'Why do we have to learn this?' than the insidious blather always on the lips of teachers, 'It’s on the Regents.'

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